Lead Poisoning in Children

Laura Mayans
American Family Physician 2019 July 1, 100 (1): 24-30
Asymptomatic lead poisoning has become more common in children. Blood lead levels of less than 5 µg per dL are associated with impairments in neurocognitive and behavioral development that are irreversible. Risk factors for lead poisoning include age younger than five years, low socioeconomic status, living in housing built before 1978, and use of imported food, medicines, and pottery. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force released a recommendation in 2019 citing insufficient evidence to assess the balance of benefits and harms of universal screening for elevated blood lead levels in asymptomatic children and pregnant women. Local risk factors can be substantial, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that states and cities formulate their own targeted screening guidelines. In the absence of local guidance, the CDC recommends screening all Medicaid-eligible children at 12 months and again at 24 months, or at least once between 36 and 72 months if not previously screened. The CDC also recommends universal screening in areas where more than 27% of the housing was built before 1950, or where at least 12% of children 12 to 36 months of age have blood lead levels greater than 10 µg per dL. Life-threatening lead levels are treated with chelation therapy, and lower levels should prompt case management and environmental investigations to identify and remove the source of exposure. Primary prevention strategies are essential to eliminate the harmful effects of lead on child development.

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